NEW YORK — To grasp the significance of a group of multidisciplinary Icelandic designers banding together for their American debuts, one must consider their remote, blood-thinning homeland.
It is safe to say Icelanders value warmth more than most, so the design fivesome's decision to create a collection of Icelandic wool blankets makes perfect sense. Produced under the label Vik Prjónsdóttir, the collaborative is made up of designers Brynhildur Pálsdóttir, Egill Kalevi Karlsson, Gudfinna Mjöll Magnúsdóttir, Hrafnkell Birgisson and Thuridur Rós Sigurthórsdóttir, who teamed up with the knitwear producer Vikurpjon.
Linguistically challenging as their names might be for non-Icelanders, the troupe took great care in choosing its name, which is a bit of a word game for those familiar with their language. Vik refers to the town where their blankets are made, prjon means knitting, dottir refers to daughter and "Jon" is the most common male name in Iceland. The name started as a joke and then the designers took to it, Karlsson said with a laugh, during an interview Wednesday at Scandinavian Grace, the Williamsburg boutique where their blankets are being sold.
Another sign of their humor is the Vik Prjónsdóttir logo, which is supposed to resemble a unisex person or a seal with knitting needles, depending on which designer you ask.
The blankets reference the country's heritage. The wearable Seal Pelt is emblematic of a myth about a mother of seven who flees to the sea wearing a sealskin. The Twosome has two hoods and is meant to be worn by a pair. The pattern of outstretched arms with clasped hands is a nod to Iceland's century-old custom of inviting strangers passing through town to share a bed to stay warm. Bedfellows would lay side by side in opposite directions. Magnúsdóttir explained: "This was just hospitality — to make someone warm in our cold country."
Pálsdóttir added, "The bed is usually the warmest place in a house."
Vik Prjónsdóttir also has made Beard Caps, better known traditionally as "lambshed-hoods," which were worn by farmers who often trekked long distances between their sheds and neighboring farms during snowstorms. The Regional blanket's print was inspired by Vikurpjon's headquarters on the southern coast not far from one of Iceland's largest glaciers, which rests on an active volcano.Now that Vik Prjónsdóttir has touched down in the U.S., its five designers hope the exhibition will help them make further inroads. Sigurthórsdóttir, a Central Saint Martins grad and Williamsburg-based fashion designer, is the only one of the five who is not based in Iceland. With only 300,000 residents and a mere 100 working designers in Iceland, each of the members is trying to better establish his or her work through a range of mediums and one-off projects. Pálsdóttir and Magnúsdóttir started their business, Bordid, as food designers, but have added exhibition design, teaching, interior design and graphic design for documentaries. But they still get creative with food — they dreamt up the idea of serving fish balls atop ice cream cones for their last gig. "In Iceland, society is so small that you have to be versatile," Magnúsdóttir explained.
Karlsson, a graduate of Li Edelkoort's Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, has designed everything from spandex-covered high-heeled shoes to presentation panels for Rem Koolhaas, and the Berlin-trained Birgisson's products and art pieces are sold in Conran and the MoMA's Design store, among others.
Well aware of how Icelandic musicians have made it big abroad, Karlsson said: "We all play in at least three bands and who knows if one of those bands is going to make it."
Scandinavian Grace co-owner James Morelos said, "That's why having this first exhibition in Williamsburg makes sense. Everyone around here is crafty."
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